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Monday, April 21, 2014

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Syrian encroachment

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The signs were many and ominous last week that the blood-soaked storms in Syria may soon become darker, bloodier, and spread farther.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Russia May 14 to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu was accompanied by the director of Israel’s military intelligence, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, and National Security Council chief Yaakov Amidror. The subject was Syria. 

The publicly announced purpose of the Israelis’ visit was to dissuade Putin from completing a 2010 arms deal with Syria in which the Russians are to deliver sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft missile batteries to Syria. According to media reports, the Israeli security team shared information with their Russian counterparts regarding the Syrian civil war and, in particular, of Iran and Hezbollah’s involvement in the fighting. More than 80,000 people are said to have been killed in the conflict.

The introduction of the Russian anti-aircraft system onto Syrian territory would impair Israel’s range of movement. And if Syria attempted to transfer the S-300s batteries to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel would act to prevent it. The deployment of the batteries in Syria would also make it very difficult if not impossible for western allies to impose a no-fly zone over Syrian skies.   

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded to Netanyahu’s’ request by saying that Moscow would not sign any new deals with Syria, but would honour “in full” the existing contracts.

A day after Netanyahu’s visit, Israel Radio reported that Tehran and Damascus were discussing the opening by Hezbollah of a new front against Israel from Syrian territory, i.e., the Golan Heights. Confirming the Israeli report was a small news item in the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar that Iran had “reached a final decision” to turn the Golan Heights into a new front for “anyone who wants to fight Israel.”

Then, one day after the Israel Radio report concerning Iran’s purported plans for the Golan Heights, CIA director John Brennan made an unannounced visit to Israel. According to The Times of Israel, Brennan met with Israel’s defence minister, Moshe Ya’alon, at Defence Ministry headquarters. Here too, the subject was Syria, and likely Iran as well. Ya’alon undoubtedly updated Brennan on the talks earlier in the week between Netanyahu and Putin.

There are increasing concerns that Israel could become drawn into the Syrian maelstrom. Indeed that may now be Iran’s plan. Tehran seems to want the Syrian maelstrom to spill over onto the neighboring borders of countries opposed to their Bashar Assad, especially Israel, and perhaps even Turkey and Jordan too.  Adding fresh worries to the situation, Russia, as in Cold War days of old, seems intent on thwarting western intervention against the Assad regime.

It is imperative that the West be ready to prevent Syria’s war from encroaching beyond Syria.

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